Treatments and drugs

By Mayo Clinic Staff

Heart attack treatment at a hospital

With each passing minute after a heart attack, more heart tissue loses oxygen and deteriorates or dies. The main way to prevent heart damage is to restore blood flow quickly.

Medications

Medications given to treat a heart attack include:

  • Aspirin. The 911 operator may instruct you to take aspirin, or emergency medical personnel may give you aspirin immediately. Aspirin reduces blood clotting, thus helping maintain blood flow through a narrowed artery.
  • Thrombolytics. These drugs, also called clotbusters, help dissolve a blood clot that's blocking blood flow to your heart. The earlier you receive a thrombolytic drug after a heart attack, the greater the chance you'll survive and with less heart damage.
  • Antiplatelet agents. Emergency room doctors may give you other drugs to help prevent new clots and keep existing clots from getting larger. These include medications, such as clopidogrel (Plavix) and others, called platelet aggregation inhibitors.
  • Other blood-thinning medications. You'll likely be given other medications, such as heparin, to make your blood less "sticky" and less likely to form clots. Heparin is given intravenously or by an injection under your skin.
  • Pain relievers. You may receive a pain reliever, such as morphine, to ease your discomfort.
  • Nitroglycerin. This medication, used to treat chest pain (angina), can help improve blood flow to the heart by widening (dilating) the blood vessels.
  • Beta blockers. These medications help relax your heart muscle, slow your heartbeat and decrease blood pressure, making your heart's job easier. Beta blockers can limit the amount of heart muscle damage and prevent future heart attacks.
  • ACE inhibitors. These drugs lower blood pressure and reduce stress on the heart.

Surgical and other procedures

In addition to medications, you may undergo one of the following procedures to treat your heart attack:

  • Coronary angioplasty and stenting. Doctors insert a long, thin tube (catheter) that's passed through an artery, usually in your leg or groin, to a blocked artery in your heart. If you've had a heart attack, this procedure is often done immediately after a cardiac catheterization, a procedure used to locate blockages.

    This catheter is equipped with a special balloon that, once in position, is briefly inflated to open a blocked coronary artery. A metal mesh stent may be inserted into the artery to keep it open long term, restoring blood flow to the heart. Depending on your condition, your doctor may opt to place a stent coated with a slow-releasing medication to help keep your artery open.

  • Coronary artery bypass surgery. In some cases, doctors may perform emergency bypass surgery at the time of a heart attack. If possible, your doctor may suggest that you have bypass surgery after your heart has had time — about three to seven days — to recover from your heart attack.

    Bypass surgery involves sewing veins or arteries in place beyond a blocked or narrowed coronary artery, allowing blood flow to the heart to bypass the narrowed section.

Once blood flow to your heart is restored and your condition is stable, you're likely to remain in the hospital for several days.

Nov. 15, 2014

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